WHEN KNICKSpresident Donnie Walsh assumed control of the organization last spring,sweeping changes were on the way. He let free agents Fred Jones and RandolphMorris walk. He traded Renaldo Balkman to Denver for two players who wereimmediately cut. Then ... that was it? "You can't force a trade," saysWalsh. "Sometimes the right deals just aren't there."
Thus, the onus ofimproving the old team falls on the new coach. "I've bought MikeD'Antoni," says Walsh. "I'm convinced about him." Can therun-and-gun system that transformed the Suns breathe life into New York?"We're going to be doing the same things here we did in Phoenix," saysD'Antoni. "We're going to push the ball and try to get easybaskets."
D'Antoni may wantto run, but he's short on guys who can successfully gun. Twelve of the 15players from a 23-win team that averaged 96.9 points are still on the roster.And the prominent new faces—free-agent guard Chris Duhon and 6'10" rookieDanilo Gallinari, the No. 6 pick, out of Italy—don't exactly have fans settingaside money for playoff tickets.
Ironically, theKnick who may be the best fit in the new system is the one whom Walsh wouldmost like to unload. Point guard Stephon Marbury played 34 games for D'Antoni'sSuns in 2003--04, averaging 20.8 points and 8.3 assists, but his me-firstattitude and $21.9 million salary are a hindrance to a franchise trying torebuild. "I'm not tied to anybody," says D'Antoni. "I'm here to getthese guys playing better."
With this staleroster of ill-fitting parts, better is a long way off.
A rival scout onthe KNICKS: Bringing in Chris Duhon was a must. They had to have a steady,experienced point guard that they could depend on.... There's no toughness inJamal Crawford. If he's your best scorer and the guy leading the offense,you're in trouble. Plus, he can't guard anybody.... If Eddy Curry's under therim—and I mean under it—then you can't stop him. But so often they'll throw himthe ball, he'll open up his body, and he'll get stripped. And because he lovesto turn the left shoulder, the defense just sits and waits for him to committhe charge.... Jared Jeffries could be a contributor on a good team. He's6'11", and they were talking about starting him at center before he brokehis left leg, but if they needed to, they could have him defend the point guardand he would not get embarrassed.... They'll probably have to sacrifice DavidLee, who'll be a free agent, for the long-term growth of the organization. Heaveraged close to 10 and 10 last year for a team that won 23 games, so howimportant was he?
Since entering the league in '00--01 (with the Bulls), Jamal Crawford has beenon the winning side in just 30.5% of the games that he's played (162 of 532),the worst career percentage of any active player.
PROJECTEDSTARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCHPLAYERS: G Stephon Marbury, C Eddy Curry, G Nate Robinson, F Jared Jeffries, FWilson Chandler
Record: 23--59(14th in East)
Points scored: 96.9 (21st in NBA)
Points allowed: 103.5 (22nd)
Coach: Mike D'Antoni (first season with Knicks)
DAVID E. KLUTHO
WALK BEFORE YOU RUN It will take a couple of years for D'Antoni to get players who'll thrive in his up-tempo offense.
RAY AMATI/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
DAVID E. KLUTHO